I was a little nervous to speak to Seth Rollins, because just look at him. A WWE Superstar and member of the wrestling stable The Shield, Rollins has more than once on-air been called “the Architect” and “the flag-bearer of individualism.” Watch his running single leg dropkick—or better yet, his corner forearm smash—and you will begin to understand the man’s appeal. There is something unhinged about him—it’s there in even his most benign facial expressions. So when he gave me a call this afternoon, I didn’t know what to expect. You can catch Rollins in person next Tuesday night at the Verizon Arena. Here’s our conversation:
I read you grew up in Iowa, what was that like?
Iowa’s great. I grew up in a real small town here, so it’s nice, not too overcrowded. I’m in Iowa now—we’ve got a couple of days off before we hit the road, so I’m just hanging out. I wanted to be decompress with family and friends, my dog, my girlfriend. Just try and hang out and enjoy their company.
Did you always want to be a wrestler?
I was always a wrestling fan growing up and I pretty much knew this was what I was going to try to do since I was about fifteen or sixteen. My friends were all really into it at that time. Late 1990s, early 2000s, the industry was just really booming then. You had guys like The Rock, Steve Austin, all those guys.
I watched WCW a little bit but I was mostly a WWF fan. I loved Hulk Hogan. Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, The British Bulldogs, The Legion of Doom. I just resonated with those guys really well. I liked guys who thought about style. It was a cool time to be a fan, and for whatever reason I just didn’t want to do anything else after high school.
I always enjoyed wrestling as an art form, even at an early age, whether I knew it or not. The pageantry of professional wrestling. People think it’s just entertainment, but we always call it sports entertainment: it’s a welding of those two things. Until you’re on the inside of it, it’s really hard to appreciate how much actually goes into a wrestling match or a storyline, mentally and physically. There are so many elements to it as a live performance, I don’t think people really grasp how much of an art it really is. I get called “The Architect of the Shield” because I take a cerebral approach to the tactical side of what we do. I come up with the blueprints.
Were you a violent kid?
I never got in fights, I was a model student, got good grades. I wasn’t much of an extracurricular participant, I didn’t play sports or anything like that. I was too busy playing around with my friends and wrestling in my back yard. But I was a good kid, I didn’t drink or smoke. Model citizen.
Did your family support you?
When I first told my family I was going to be a wrestler, they were pretty opposed to it. They wanted me to go to college. Once it started to take off and I started to do okay and travel more, I think they kind of hopped on board and saw that it was something I was going to work for. Now they come all the time.
Was the independent circuit very different from what you’re doing now?
I mean I started training in a shipping warehouse, and I’m in Wrestlemania XXX this year, in front of millions of people worldwide, you know? I spent a few years cutting my teeth in the Midwest, I worked for Ring of Honor, then I went down to Florida and relearned everything there. It wasn’t different, but the crowds are bigger now. The paychecks are nicer, but that’s not really why I do it, so it doesn’t make much of a difference for me.
Getting to share the ring with guys I idolized is never going to stop being surreal for me. Getting to share the ring with guys like The Rock or The Undertaker or CM Punk or John Cena, guys I grew up watching. To have them appreciate what I do is just humbling.
The fans are awesome too. With social media now, everybody’s faceless, but I assume these kids sending me pictures of myself of Instagram are twelve, thirteen years old. But I don’t know. We’ve all got twitter handles and aliases, and so I don’t really even know what my fan base is like. But everyone’s very kind. I don’t have any crazy people or stalkers or anything like that.
Do people still ask you whether what you do is real or fake?
Fake is like the worst word you could possibly use to describe anything, you know? What are you talking about? What is fake? It’s a television show, and a live performance. Nothing’s fake about it. We’re not telling you we’re out their fighting each other. We’re going out there to entertain you. I consider myself an athlete. I train like an athlete, I eat like an athlete, I recover and get sore just like any other athlete. We’re not lying to anybody. People just don’t understand the art form of what we do. It’s a mental and physical grind. You can’t be a dolt in this industry. On the opposite end of that, you can be the smartest guy in the world and not understand what it is to have a presence on stage. Being a character, executing a live performance, understanding what it is to connect with a crowd and elicit a specific response at a specific time using moves and body language and emotions. What we do is very complex. It’s underappreciated.
How much goes work goes into a single show, like Tuesday’s Smackdown?
I couldn’t even describe it to you. You think we’re just putting on a show, but it’s a full-on team effort. What we do in the ring—we’re not even the hardest workers there. There are guys working third shift just to set up the stage and clean it out and put it back on the buses and clean out the arena. Then you’ve got the production team, the stage managers. There are so many elements that go into what we do on a nightly basis.
If you’ve never been to a live WWE event, it’s pretty awesome. A few hours of action-packed family fun. Bring everybody, from your babies to your grandparents.